Germany says it will deploy troops in the Afghan city of Kunduz to help improve stability outside of Kabul and to protect aid workers. But it will not deploy the soldiers until the United Nations approves a new mandate for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) allowing it to operate outside Kabul. Germany also says it may withdraw troops from the Balkans to strengthen its forces in Afghanistan.
Munich, 3 September 2003 (RFE/RL)-- German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder says his country is ready to deploy about 250 armed soldiers in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz -- but only if it gets a United Nations mandate to do so.
Schroeder told reporters the cabinet approved the deployment after hearing a report from military experts on the situation. He said the government hopes the UN will act quickly so advance units can arrive in Kunduz before winter sets in.
Germany already has 1,500 soldiers in Afghanistan with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), based in Kabul. But ISAF's UN mandate allows it to operate only within Kabul and the surrounding area. A new mandate will be required if ISAF troops are to be deployed anywhere else in the country.
The German troops in Kunduz will replace U.S. soldiers protecting aid workers and rebuilding schools, hospitals, factories, and roads. They are there as members of the U.S.-led coalition, which does not require a UN mandate to deploy forces throughout Afghanistan.
Schroeder said Germany is acting in response to appeals by Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman President Hamid Karzai, who has called for the international community to help restore order and security in the provinces before national elections scheduled for June 2004.
Schroeder quoted German experts as saying deteriorating security conditions in much of Afghanistan are stalling economic reconstruction and threatening confidence in the peace process. The German chancellor said an international presence was needed throughout the country to help reconstruction and stability.
"The work of reconstruction is foremost, while the military component is there to guarantee security. We are thinking about training programs, such as we have in Kabul for the police," Schroeder said.
The U.S.-led coalition is already working on democracy-building projects in Afghanistan through its so-called Provincial Reconstruction Teams. They operate in about a dozen cities and focus on bolstering security and assisting reconstruction projects.
Schroeder said the German government agreed that its troops should remain part of the UN-mandated ISAF rather than operating with the U.S.-led coalition. He said ISAF and the coalition had separate tasks and should continue to operate separately.
One of the continued tasks of the U.S.-led coalition's "Enduring Freedom" operation is to root out remaining Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters. In the past month, coalition troops have engaged in heavy fighting with Taliban guerrillas in southern Afghanistan.
"We want to [deploy troops in Kunduz] on the basis of an expanded mandate for ISAF. It is an important question for us. We believe that what is done -- and must continue to be done -- within the framework of 'Enduring Freedom,' and what is done by the United Nations within the ISAF framework, should be separate," Schroeder said.
Angela Merkel, leader of Germany's opposition Christian Democrats, told reporters she agreed with Schroeder's support for ISAF and its United Nations mandate.
German Defense Minister Peter Struck says he is considering using German peacekeeping forces now in the Balkans to reinforce troops in Afghanistan. Germany currently has about 7,500 troops in Macedonia, Bosnia, and Kosovo.
"We are thinking about a step-by-step reduction of German forces in the Balkans," Struck said. "We are also looking at ending our presence in Macedonia in the spring of next year."
Struck said in a newspaper interview published on 30 August that he could envisage German troops remaining in Afghanistan for several years to support reconstruction and stability. But he said that would only be possible if Germany reduced its forces in the Balkans.
The defense minister's comments have led some political observers to suggest the German government may be looking to build up its Afghan presence in order to deflect U.S. pressure to send troops to Iraq. The government has not commented on this speculation.